The sincerity of Achilles or Beowulf cannot be discussed: they neither have nor lack sincerity. But if we are to ask whether Young Werther is really as sincere as he intends to be, or which of the two Dashwood sisters, Elinor or Marianne, is thought by Jane Austen to be the more truly sincere, we can confidently expect a serious response in the form of opinions on both sides of the question. [2-3]I see what Trilling is getting at here, but I don't agree. For Beowulf, surely his sincerity is key? (That is to say: one of the important currents in Beowulf is about whether he is in Denmark merely to help the Danes, out of the goodness of his heart, or whether it is a bid for power. His 'sincerity' is proved, over the course of the poem: but it's not something we can be sure of at the beginning). And as for Achilles: well, this seems to me a profound and important question. I'd put it like this: what's more sincere than anger? I'm not sure I can think of anything.
Saturday, 22 December 2012
Reading, and enjoying, Trilling's Sincerity and Authenticity (1972), in which is examined, to quote this impeccable summary, '"the moral life in process of revising itself," a period of Western history in which (argues Trilling) sincerity became the central aspect of moral life (first observed in pre-Age of Enlightenment literature such as the works of Shakespeare), later to be replaced by authenticity (in the more recent centuries).' Lots of thought-food. But, here's a sticking point for me: